Adding some spice

Bollywood is proving to be a big hit in Europe

Mehru Jaffer
It is no longer rare for the peace and quiet of a Friday evening here to be shattered by the startling ring of the telephone.

'What are you doing?' questions the caller after a quick hello.
'Having dinner.'
'What! You are eating…? Shahrukh Khan is on television! Talk to you later,' the voice disappears, often without a bye. And these callers are supposed to be friends.

I must admit that I love Shahrukh very much. But the thought of giving up food, drink or sleep, over the prettiest boy in the world, hasn't occurred to me, yet.

Nevertheless I excuse myself from the dining table where only minutes ago I had enjoyed the company of family members, whom I had not seen for an entire day, to watch Shahrukh on the German television channel RTL II instead.

I have to do this as more calls invariably pour in after the Bollywood films, that begin at 20.15, are over to answer questions like what does it mean to hold both ears with the fingers and to shake the head, to reach down to the feet of elders, and to touch a person and crackle the knuckles of each hand on either side of the temple? Questions about the red dot on women's forehead have to be repeatedly explained even in this day and age of instant communication.

Welcome to the heart of Europe where the 'chaein, waein' of millions of movie lovers is increasingly threatened by Bollywood films, now dubbed in German. The official website, of the private television channel started in 1993 for young viewers, is called 'Bollywood at RTL II', with blurbs like the Bollywood Autumn Marathon and Hot Shots in
the winter. For novices there are notices about Rani Mukerjee, Kajol and of course Shahrukh Khan, the Kino King, amongst others. RTL II first aired Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum in 2004 at prime time and was thrilled with the response of viewers out of which 73 per cent were young women.

This was followed by Kal Ho Na Ho, Main Hoon Na and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, each one a greater success than the previous.

More than six million households remained in their home one Friday evening, it is reported, to watch Shahrukh and Kajol romance in the German language.

'We got a 25 per cent share of the under 49 age group, with most in the 12 to 29 age group. You can't do much better than that,' gushes Joyce Mariel, an RTL II kesperson, where the winter screenings this year begin on January 27. Theatres fond of off beat films had often screened a Bollywood film or two in the past but now it is possible to pick up the newspaper and look for a regular show of Indian films that run for weeks in Vienna.

Daniel Wisser, founder, SPICE, an online society for promoting Indian cinematic entertainment, that already has 25,000 full length Hindi films in its database, is thrilled with all the hullabaloo over Bollywood but the thought of watching Hindi films dubbed in German annoys him.To sustain this love for Bollywood he would like to see distributors select good quality films for screening here. 'I don't understand the value of films like Dil ka Rishta. A film like that does not entertain, it does not inform and people will eventually loose interest in Indian commercial cinema if similar films
are screened once too often,' Wisser told Hardnews.

Wisser, curator of a 10 day retrospective on Guru Dutt beginning January 20 at Vienna's prestigious Albertina Film Museum, was introduced to Bollywood on his second trip to India when the weary tourist walked into an airconditioned cinema house to watch Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge in 1996. To enjoy the films better Wisser learnt Hindi and is able to both read and write the Devanagari and Urdu scripts.

Wisser works five hours a day at a bank for a living and devotes the rest of his time to writing poetry and watching films.

Today he is pleased that other Indian film makers are being recognised, along with the great Satyajit Ray. He chose the films of Guru Dutt over those of Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor and Mehboob Khan for Vienna audiences mainly because he cannot stop wondering the kind of cinema Guru Dutt could have created if he had not died at the young age of 38 years.

He tries to explore this thought in a talk during the retrospective. He continues to question those who were close to Guru Dutt but has not found the pieces still missing from the puzzle. Not even in In Search of Guru Dutt, the fine, 1989 documentary by Nasreen Munni Kabir, included in the precious retrospective of all the films made by Guru Dutt during his short life except for Sailab, that seems to be lost forever.

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